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Originally Published July 7, 2004
“Women Who Cook”
Featuring Koko Taylor, Janiva Magness,
Deanna Bogart,and Jennifer Wright
The Count Basie Theatre Red Bank, New Jersey
By Mitch Lopate
They had this gig mis-labeled. It should have been billed as “Women Who Sizzle.” Thank God it was a cool evening, or else the sprinkler system would have been activated. There was one regret, due to competitive scheduling by the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation, an outdoor venue had just concluded with an outstanding performance — so it was hard to be in two places at once. For what it was worth, and that meant everything to those of us at the Basie, we more than got our fair share of the value. Now I know why the baseball fantasy league had such a field day when A-Rod joined the Yankees; the lineup potential was too good to overlook for a guaranteed win. Just look, an all-time W. C. Handy Award winner (Koko Taylor), a 2004 nominee (Janiva Magness), a two-fisted dynamo on keyboards, sax, and vocals (Deanna Bogart), and an R&B belter (Jennifer Wright)! This is another reason why Red Bank made May 2004 edition of Smithsonian Magazine as “one of the hippest places to visit” in the U.S. We dearly love our music here and the Count Basie has more than its namesake on the marquee to prove it. If you’re an artist in the music industry, you bring the very best in your portfolio — nothing less accepted. Ladies, not only did you pull our musical heartstrings, we heard your deep passion for your craft. And that’s what made it special — each one took her own turn and style in portraying what she felt as her inspiration, her muse. And, oh boy, did it make us jump!
These shows are rare, but more than a typical night out for entertainment. It was something like watching (and listening to) the on-stage equivalent of the U.S. Women’s Olympic 4 x 400-relay team: right from the start, each lady burned past anyone and anything standing in her respective way, then passed the baton (microphone) to the next runner (performer) and onward to victory and an ultimate celebration of joy. In the end, the winners were both the musicians and the audience — and everyone in the theatre seats felt as though they too had been rocketing down the track lanes to the finish line and gold medal ceremony. I had the luck and support of the management to be there for the sound check, and it was great to see the camaraderie, plenty of jokes, laughs, and good connections. Besides, the best place to get a terrific meal at a bargain price is right across the street: The Eurasian Eatery gave Deanna, Janiva, and I the corner table, and these gals are working friends from 20+ years ago. Catching up on their childhood and family memories that mixed and matched was just the right framework to set up the evening’s display of support and partnerships.
Taking the first turn as a local girl and Red Bank favorite daughter, Jennifer and her band, Terraplane Blues (www.terraplaneblues.com), jumped out with “Amazing Grace,” putting everyone in an open mood, and moved into Robert Johnson’s “Walking Blues,” fleshed out by rich chunks of slide guitar. A stormy sax made everything come clean for “Dirty Laundry” while Jennifer growled and prowled before us, and the intensity rose when she modified the Etta James classic, “I’d Rather Go Blind” by changing the tempo. The pleas and begging of “Momma, He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” supported by Deanna B. on fiery sax, brought on a wave of applause and howls of pleasure.
Speaking of Miss Bogart in more formal terms, her opening boogie-woogie rampage on the piano totally caught some people off-guard with the assortment of fluid mad dashes, aerial assaults, double-reverse moves, and sprints. Hey, guys, remember how Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders used to throw those “I-moved-in-two-places-at-once” splits at the defense? Imagine that visual instead with two hands jitter-jabbing back and forth in a wild display of body English. Deanna’s a Detroit native, so it must be something that’s a Motor City special. Jerry Lee Lewis wouldn’t cover as much territory sitting before the black and whites as she does — but her style is really more Chuck Leavell tutored by George Gershwin. A polished veteran on the East Coast circuit as well as a premier guest around the country, Deanna simply has everything going her way, including a potential gold mine discography that demands ownership, a riveted-tight band, smoky, husky vocals that Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie would wish to achieve, and a beautifully tarnished vintage saxophone that really resonates when she lets loose those scorching notes. You may have not felt the flames as this one passed the competition in the race, but there was smoke under someone’s feet. This is a natural keyboard player — you can hear it in her style (well, at least someone made use of lessons, it seems!), and she easily can pull the sorrow from a Wurlitzer organ, a choir of angels from an electric piano, or rolling fog from a synthesizer. If this was the second act, it was worth the show alone, and I would hold this as a standard measure for others. You can find more information about this great performer at www.deannabogart.com.
Since you’re an R&B fan, you surely know that Janiva Magness was a Handy Award nominee for this year’s Best Contemporary Female Blues Artist. The third lane, and there was no doubt, was clearly marked by the lady in the form-fitting leopard-print dress. That was obviously the way she liked it, as “I’m Not Ashamed” (from 2003′s wonderful Use What You’ve Got CD) made her intentions known that she wasn’t letting up the pace. (I would have died for that title song, as it has enough movement from the hips on down behind a thunderous beat to make a skeleton wish for muscles.) Janiva has a unique washboard in her repertoire: it has a second potential as body armor with a bustier for a woman’s figure, and Lord, I don’t want to tell you how much those utensils she held are loving their job. “Work With Me, Baby,” she urged, and that’s what we all wanted to do if we could be up there making music. Just for the fun of it, look at her cover photo of Blues Ain’t Pretty; see that clenched fist and the snarl on her lips? Do not even attempt to consider trying to tame this big cat. And as long as you’re on it, check out the unmerciful torment from Kid Ramos’s lead guitar on “St. Gabriel.” I watched Janiva run through the warm-ups, and there’s risky business with a big payout in everything she does. Donald Trump, here’s someone who should run your “Apprentice” show! Find out more about Janiva at www.janivamagness.com. And all this from a woman who coos “Act Right” as if love is something special on the Atkins Diet.
Koko. She can carry her name in one hand — the one that holds the microphone is all that’s needed. With her band, the Blues Machine (led by her son on guitar), she absolutely ruled, justifying her reputation as “The Queen of the Blues.” It was the last lap, getting near midnight, but this lady saw everything as clear as day. “Let The Good Times Roll,” she commanded. They did — and so did we, overwhelmed by the throaty hurricane’s beckoning. “Tell Mama” and “Somebody Bring Me Some Water” were showcased in between a boisterous round of applause for the first three acts (yes, it surely must have been hot up there). Koko occasionally found the need to sit and rest her bones, gathering up strength to rise again and get it down, telling us, “We’re goin’ down in the basement!” for some deep Chicago Blues, Muddy Waters-style. Roaring with passion as only she can do, “Hoochie Coochie Woman” put a raw ingredient into the altered words “I’m a wo-man!” I saw Buddy Guy do this to the ladies, but Koko wasn’t taking anything else for an answer from the men. “Jump for Joy” was the response, and everyone joined in for a exhilarating “Wang Dang Doodle,” including her insistence to “Get ‘Speedy’ up here-where’s that little girl who played that piano?” The band played on in an extended jam while Koko recuperated backstage, and then it was another group encore for “Sweet Home Chicago.”
Therefore, men, when the woman in your life says, “It’s ‘Ladies Night Out’ and I want to be entertained,” just know that she has a reason in this Blues season to be expecting a show like this. Either plan on a vacation that makes this tour available or just head on up to Red Bank and wait for the next gig, because it could be better to be blue than black and blue by those who can sing them as well as deliver them, too.
By Mitch Lopate
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